Go Dog Go

Taste's urban bistro has bite and bark

Urban bistro. It's a familiar culinary idiom, but what does it mean? Maybe Paris. Paris is urban. They love bistros in Paris, where the word means "pub." They love dogs there, too. Sidewalks groan under the accumulated evidence. Leashes are woven through the cafe tables--kinky culinary bondage with a bark.

Taste classifies itself as an urban bistro. The billing sinks in quick. On the far wall hangs a shelf loosely stocked with upright wine bottles and dogs. Little framed snapshots of dogs--in all sizes, shapes, hues and slobbering tongue lengths--crowd the shelf. They're flanked by a couple of books on hounds. The opposite wall is a wine rack.

Do wine and dogs pair well? Dogs and beer, yeah. But wine? You could argue that some red wines smell as if the terroir has gone terrier, but not much more. Maybe brunch on the Taste patio answers the question. Everyone seems to have a pooch. It isn't long before alarm sweeps through the small crowd, just after a puddle appears next to an Akita. The crowd relaxes after it's discovered the spot is slosh from a plastic drinking bowl. A sheltie at the next table growls at the Akita. The Akita homes in on the sheltie and steals a few slurps from its water bowl--a stiff middle finger in dog vernacular perhaps.

Let's go to the dogs tonight: Taste has canines and tasty cuisine.
Tom Jenkins
Let's go to the dogs tonight: Taste has canines and tasty cuisine.

Details

Taste omelette $8
Frittata $8
Smoked salmon napoleon $11
Tomato soup $6
Game hen $18
Salt cod $14
Lamb en croûte $21
Yellowfin tuna $29
Closed Location

Overall, this is a successful urban bistro brunch. No leg became a fireplug. No scoop was deployed. No dog owner was threatened with snarling lawyers. When the dog-less man at a far table began tearing into his fried chicken and waffles, braying hounds didn't circle his chair. Time for some wine.

Taste owners Jonathon Calabrese and Joe Hickey are apparently as passionate about wine as they are about dogs. Dig into the black Taste dinner menu, past the cheeses and soups and salads and entrées, and you'll find a lineup littered with food-friendly wines. Sure, the back pages are loaded with plenty of cabernet, chardonnay and merlot, but think of this as list ballast. The front of the list sloshes with barbera, cabernet franc (a Foris from Oregon, for instance), pinot noir, Austrian Grüner Veltliner; hell, there's even a couple of German Rieslings. How many lists admit those?

Eggs need acid, and you could run a car battery on most of the stuff coming out of New Zealand, like the Giesen Riesling. Stinking of citrus and peach through a backdrop of blossoms, the wine slashes across the palate with crisp green apple followed by a bite of minerals on the finish. It's a hell of a wine with poached eggs, which crown the smoked salmon napoleon.

The dish is tall. Two poached eggs rest on top like a pair of eyeballs. Below folds of clean, thin smoked salmon is a crisp spinach latke (a potato pancake) that grows moist once the fork probes beyond the edges. At the base is large and lush roasted portobello mushroom. Portobellos are problematic things. When presented in full heft, they can be leaky sponges that drool monotonous earthy slurry, swamping whatever it touches. Portobellos have to be schooled and refined. Here, they are. The cap is coated in oil and seasoned with pepper, thyme, rosemary and garlic before it's washed in Worcestershire. The mushroom has a subtle sting, meshing with the eggs and salmon smoke even as it foils them (the latke adds textural contrast). The only problem is those poached eggs: While one had a firm runny yolk, the other was overcooked and hard.

Vegetarian frittata is a little dry but loaded with fresh flora including peppers, slightly caramelized onions and tomato. It's offset by a pomodoro sauce composed of yellow tomatoes, artichoke hearts, garlic and cilantro set in white wine.

Taste omelette is a changeable brunch dish, with Sunday whims dictating composition. Here layers of fluffy egg blanket shreds of sweet crab mixed with avocado. A tasty hash of purple potato bits, bacon, onion and poblano peppers sprawls nearby.

Braised short ribs are linked with eggs, too. The meat is chewy and moist, bathed in a flood of reduced veal stock flavored with a mirepoix composed of carrot, celery and onion fringed with herbs. The Riesling didn't flinch.

The sunny dog disposition of the brunch patio surrenders to the blindness of faux romanticism at night. Ceilings reach high into the black industrial stratosphere, the only gleam coming from the thick ribbons of shiny metal ductwork that seem to suck up light from votive candles in a strained effort to disperse it. Tables are tucked into dark corners, some near long dark purple curtains behind which the kitchen lurks. Chefs and handlers scurry in the long narrow room, almost luxurious in size. Shadows are so formidable that it is impossible to read the menu and wine list without penlights.

Walls are deep red--a perfect chromatic impression of the sun-dried tomato soup. In the dusk of the dining room the soup almost looks black, save for the oval tops of mozzarella that break the surface. A third mozzarella ball is shrouded in dark green, shielded by a mint leaf. The soup is intensely extracted with metallic teeth, a little acidic burn and a shadow of sweetness.

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